The auditor recommended the city increase the availability of enhanced shelters, with numerous on-site services, to get more homeless people off the street.
A city auditor’s report released late Tuesday reiterated that Seattle’s lack of shelter beds for homeless people — particularly in places that offer those individuals a multitude of services — is making it harder to persuade them to come in from off the streets.
The report takes a close look at the city’s Navigation Team, a collection of outreach workers and police officers who connect homeless people, primarily those living in unsanctioned encampments, to services, including shelter.
But to improve their ability to get homeless people inside, the city should increase the availability of enhanced shelters, those that include numerous on-site services, like case management, and that operate 24 hours a day, every day. The report suggests the city consider using so-called “bridge-to-housing structures” to house homeless people. These are effectively large, sprung-tents equipped with electricity, heat and water.
Limited shelter space throughout the city is a theme that has popped up again and again over the last several months, even as removal of unsanctioned homeless encampments has increased across the city.
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A spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday that the city is already addressing several of the concerns highlighted in the audit.
“The city is already implementing many of the recommendations including expanding capacity for enhanced shelter, improving data and integrating the Navigation Team more closely with the Human Services Department,” Stephanie Formas said in an email.
The audit also recommends that the Navigation Team adopt a tactic that many other cities have more aggressively pursued: reuniting homeless people with friends or family. This is an example of a strategy called diversion, one-time financial help for homeless people and help tapping into their existing resources to keep them from sliding into prolonged homelessness.
While the city has dollars set aside for diversion, the audit found there was no explicit connection between those resources and Navigation Team clients — something the report recommends should change.
The report was released hours before a Wednesday presentation by the city’s Human Services Department on next year’s homeless-services budget. The Navigation Team was moved to the Human Services Department from the Finance and Administrative Services Department this summer; the audit suggests additional resources for HSD as a result of the team’s addition to the department.
The report again acknowledged ongoing concerns about the Navigation Team’s method of data collection; it recommends more training for Navigation Team staff to understand the relationship between homelessness and trauma. The audit said more time is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the training that police officers on the Navigation Team receive.